Framed: Matt Kerley
We catch up with travelling (but for now Brooklyn-based) tattooer and illustrator, Matt Kerley.
Name: Matt Kerley AKA Mattitude
Occupation: Professional tattooer and amateur illustrator.
Where did you grow up and where are you based at the moment?
I grew up in central North Carolina. After traveling the last four years or so I've landed back in the foothills of North Carolina.
Where are you? What are your immediate surroundings?
I'm in my private studio. Which is in the second floor of a building in the middle of the woods. It's nice and quiet.
Please describe a typical day?
If I'm not traveling, my day to day life is very routine. I usually get up and make coffee. Take my dog Bella out for a walk. Come back home and listen to records while I answer emails and fill orders from my online store. Then I drink even more coffee while I work on whatever freelance illustration job I have due that week. Then the rest of the day I work on paintings that are for my personal body of work. Usually the yellow and black pieces on canvas. Or the “party style” pieces on watercolour paper.
Who/what inspire you and your work the most?
I think everything does in some way. Lately I know for a fact that I'm inspired by life experiences - traveling, music, and people. Also, I constantly look at old underground comics and lowbrow artwork.
What was the first tattoo you ever did? Have you always worked in the same general style?
The first tattoo I did was this terrible skull on my own leg. The first real tattoo I did on another person after my apprenticeship was an outhouse on my friend Bill. My tattooing style has changed a lot over the years. At first I wanted to strictly be a traditional tattooer; bold lines and colour. But no real substance - just rehashed imagery really. I've only recently (in the last year or so) been doing what I really feel comfortable doing. Weighted lines and simple bold colours that join a strong narrative image.
Which do you enjoy more - illustrating or tattooing, or do think of them as one and the same?
I definitely don't think of them as one thing at all. They're completely different mediums and they have their own limitations. Although I do think they are directly related. I tattoo a lot of my illustrations. But I have to alter them to be tattooed. Tattoos age with the person wearing them. They settle in, lines get bigger, color changes in the skin etc. so you have to know and understand the limitations. I don't prefer one over the other. I couldn't live without either.
Do you have any work in particular that you are most proud of?
When I was in school I studied sculpture. For my senior exhibit I did a five piece body of work based on the last day of my brother’s life. This body of work has and will always mean a lot to me. In my illustration work I am really proud of the books I have put out: ‘Cone Sphere Cube’ and ‘Further, Farther Further’.
Travel / Life soundtrack at the moment?
The three albums I'm jamming solid right now are Future Islands - Singles, Iron Chic - Not Like This, and every John Prine album I can find.
What is something new you have noticed or learned recently?
I've learned that hard work pays off. It's that simple. Don't expect things to happen if you don't make them. If you want something, work hard.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring artists starting out in their craft?
Keep your head down, mouth shut, and work as hard as possible. Treat your work with love and it will love you back. If you are able to find your voice people will eventually listen.
I’ve noticed from your Instagram that you seem to travel a lot… How important do you think travel is in shaping a person?
Traveling is the best thing for any artist. Especially a tattooer. When I first got into tattooing I wanted to get to the point where I could travel. Traveling helped me in so many ways when I was finally at the point in my career where I could do it all the time. It helped me become a better tattooer, a better illustrator, and a tougher person. It makes you rely only on yourself and you learn your limitations. There were days that I was living out of my car while traveling for a few years. It gets old eventually. I'd settle down for a few months then pack up and leave again for whatever reason. I'd try and learn as much as I could when I traveled. I can't even tell you all the information I've taken from the hundreds of people I've met traveling. I was able to learn a few invaluable tricks or facts at every stop. Looking back on myself in the time before I traveled I am a completely different person and a completely different artist.
Can you suggest three artists/illustrators/creatives we should check out?